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Court decision parts the waves for Able UK

Moves to bring nine former US Navy ships to Hartlepool for recycling are underway after a judge threw out a case preventing the Atlantic crossing.

The US Maritime Administration (MARAD) is working with Able UK to send the vessels that will complete the pair's problem-strewn 13-ship contract.

Four ships docked at Able's Hartlepool site in late 2003 but no others were allowed to leave while a court case was heard in the US.

However, that case - brought by a consortium of environmental groups against MARAD - was dismissed on technical grounds this month.

Able UK chief executive Peter Stephenson said: "Following the judge's ruling, we will now agree with MARAD on nine other vessels within the Reserve Fleet which can complete our contract.

"Once the vessels have been identified, we will follow the same procedure used on the original four ships, inspecting them and carrying out any work needed to make them suitable for tow.

"A decision on when they will be moved to our facility will be dependent on the time of the year and the availability of suitable tugs."

The recycling in the UK of all 13 vessels is still dependent on Able UK securing the necessary licences.

Two British court decisions in December 2003 left the firm without the relevant planning permission and waste-management licence.

But the firm is adamant it will eventually recycle the 13 ships. Stephenson added: "We submitted a planning application to Hartlepool Council, setting out proposals for the continued development and expansion of the Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre, in January.

"The council is currently consulting over the application, which includes the construction of three new quays, a cofferdam and dry dock gates, and proposals for activities including shipbuilding, ship repair and recycling, as well as facilities for the manufacture of wind turbine equipment.

"If, as we hope, the application is approved by the council and we are granted a waste management licence from the Environment Agency, we will then be in a position to consider our programme of work, both for the recycling of the vessels currently in the facility and receiving further ships."

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